If we all are affected we all need to be involved….

Dear Engaged Bystander, I have been teaching workshops for a long time - so when I did my very first workshop about bystander engagement, I had a rude awakening. I thought it went really well, I had that nice feeling that I had connected with my audience and we all learned from that connection. But then at the end, one of the participants asked me, "But how do we get people who are not affected by sexual abuse to take action?"

I had failed.

Everything I have learned about sexual violence in the last 20 years is that we are ALL affected by it. This includes, whether we have been sexually abused, whether someone we love has been sexually abused, whether we know someone who has abused, or how we are all deeply affected by the images and messages surrounding us every day. So how did I leave the impression that there are people who are not affected by sexual violence?

I sometimes think that the best place to begin answering a question like this is with our own experiences.

So now I like start my workshops with a simple question that may make sense here too: "Why do you choose to do this work?" I don't think there is ever a simple response. But when people have shared their reasons with me, I am continually inspired by the ability of people to survive and thrive through the trauma of sexual abuse. I am equally inspired by those who have never experienced sexual abuse but are willing to hear the stories of horror each day and still have hope. From these stories it is so easy to see that ALL of us are affected by sexual violence. And that begins a very different conversation.

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Submitted by jesspatto on

Joan, any idea how to begin the conversation with boys and men? Most of them that I've worked with refuse to acknowledge how sexual violence has affected them (they all adamantly deny the possibility that men can be raped despite my promises that it can and does happen). When I frame it in the context of how they would feel if someone close to them (mother, sister, wife, girlfriend) were a victim of sexual violence, I fear that I'm turning the conversation into "violence against women" and making it a "women's problem" instead of activating them to fight against sexual violence, because that's the right thing for everyone to do.

Submitted by jtabachnick on

Dear Jesspatto: Great question. From my work and my background in social marketing, I find that people are most likely going to listen to someone like themselves. So ideally, if you want to reach out to men, the best person to talk with them is another man (or speak in a team with men). But that might not be possible. And I want to acknowledge that the response you are confronting is well documented.
Although this is not easy, I have seen programs effectively deal with this issue. If you look at the work at Bringing in the Bystanders, The Green Dot program or Mentors in Violence Prevention you will see that they all have found ways to address this issue. Prevent Connect has great podcasts by each of these programs. What they all seem to do well is bring men into the issue by creating a clear investment that they have a clear role as protectors and not perpetrators (or victims).
If you begin with that angle, it might help to get them more invested in your work.
And please stay in touch, I would love to hear more about what you are doing.